Rounded onion domes, fairytale palaces, the place that has espoused both tsars and communist leaders… Russia is a country like no other. Two years ago, I lived out one of my greatest dreams and finally visited Russia, a country that has fascinated me all my life. While frustrating visa processes may deter many travelers from visiting, a trip to Russia will be one to remember! Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Russia:
1. The History
While I may be a huge Russian history nerd, I don’t think anyone can deny that Russia has an incredibly intriguing past. The country saw a centuries-old system of imperial tsars turn into a communist ruled society, where the Soviet Union exerted its influence around the world. Russia still retains vestiges of its history across the country. You can still see Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, embalmed in wax if you visit Red Square in Moscow.
2. The Architecture
From the famous, colorful domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, to the Stalinist skyscrapers of the Soviet era, Russia is home to some interesting and amazing architecture. The opulent palaces are stunning—whether it’s the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg (which today houses one of the finest art museums in the world, the Hermitage), or the popular daytrips of Catherine Palace and Peterhof Palace in the suburbs, the enchanting palaces look like something out of a legend.
3. The Metro
The Metro stations in Russia are some of the best in the world. Why? They’re more or less works of art in their own right. Head underground for some of the most elaborate stations you could ever find on a morning commute. While there are so many incredible stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, you can’t leave without seeing Komsomolskaya (Комсомольская) in Moscow.
4. The Food
Russian food is hearty and so so SO good. You can’t go to Russia and not try borscht, the famous beet soup. Some of my favorite Russian food is blini, which are a type of thin pancake that can be made with just about anything—fruits, meats, salad, you name it. My favorite cheap Russian fast food chain is Teremok (Теремок), which does exceptional blini. I was eating blini twice a day by the end of my trip to Russia. No regrets. Also why you should visit Russia: vodka.
5. It’s Cheap
In general, Eastern Europe is a great place if you want to stretch your travel budget. In general, Russia is an incredibly affordable country to visit—although be forewarned that Moscow is a very expensive city. The Russian ruble has dropped significantly since my trip two years ago (due to economic sanctions because of Russian involvement in the conflict in Ukraine), making it a great destination for those on the dollar. When I visited, $1 USD was worth about 34 rubles. Now, $1 USD is worth about 60-65 rubles!
6. It’s More Unfamiliar
Russia will get you out of your Western comfort zone. Not everyone will speak English, street signs will be in Cyrillic (which can be very confusing to foreigners), you might not find a Starbucks on every street corner, it’s casual to hop in the front seat with the driver if you take a marshrutka (minibus taxi). But all of those things that make Russia more unfamiliar will only give you a more authentic experience and a better feel for the country.
7. The Russian People
While Russians (and Eastern Europeans in general) tend to get stereotyped as being aloof, unfriendly, or drunks, in my own experience I have found that once you get to know them, Russians are wonderful. While of course those stereotypes are out there, once you break the ice, Russians can be kind, friendly, and incredibly hospitable. Getting sick when I was traveling alone only showed me just how compassionate Russians can be!
8. Russia Has the Best Souvenirs
I went all out on my trip to Russia, and bought a lot of stuff. To this day, many of them remain my favorite souvenirs and my most valuable possessions. My shapka (big fur hat), wool scarf, and my matryoshka (матрёшка), my nesting doll of the Romanov family, are some of the best things I have ever spent money on. Not only were they very affordable splurges, but they are something that has so much more sentimental meaning when bought in its home country!
9. White Nights in St. Petersburg
From the end of May to mid-July, the northern city St. Petersburg comes alive at night as daylight stretches far later than usual and the city stays awake to party. Mid-June is probably the best time to go to take full advantage—while the sun doesn’t (really) go down, the bridges do go up! Make sure you are on the right side of the river, unless you’re planning to party all night until the bridges go down. I wasn’t able to make the most of this on my trip due to getting sick, but it is something that I am dying to revisit and make the most of the all-night party!
10. The Trans-Siberian Railway
The famous Trans-Siberian Railway starts in Moscow and continues east across the whole country, ending in Vladivostok. There is so much more to Russia than just Moscow and St. Petersburg—and seeing the countryside go by on the Trans-Siberian is one of my greatest dreams! You can ride the train to destinations as far as Mongolia, China, or Korea.
Have you ever been to Russia?! Share your experiences in the comments!